U.S. Senate Infrastructure Bill Proposes Big Dollars for Wide Ranging New Grant Program For Electric Vehicle Charging and Alternative Fuel Infrastructure

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Foley Hoag LLP - Energy and Cleantech Counsel

On August 10, 2021, the United States Senate passed the much anticipated bipartisan infrastructure bill.  While not yet law, the bill now advances to the House of Representatives for further consideration.  The House of Representative is expected to vote on the bill by the end of September.  This post addresses the bill, in its current form.

The bill allocates $7.5 billion dollars to be spent over five years to create alternative fuel infrastructure.  This includes electric vehicle charging stations and hydrogen, propane, and natural gas fueling infrastructure.

Generally, the money will be distributed through a grant program run by the Department of Transportation (“DOT”).  Within this structure, there is a carve-out for “community grants.”  Eligible recipients for both programs are limited to state and local government agencies including:

  • “a State or political subdivision of a State;
  • A metropolitan planning organization;
  • a unit of local government;
  • a special purpose district or public authority with a transportation function, including a port authority;
  • an Indian tribe (as defined in section 21 4 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 5304));
  • a territory of the United States;
  • an authority, agency, or instrumentality of, or an entity owned by, 1 or more entities described [above]; or
  • a group of entities described [above].”

In addition to the above groups, “State or local authority with ownership of publicly accessible transportation facilities” are eligible for community grants.

The grant program envisions that these government actors will contract with private entities in public/private partnerships to build the infrastructure.  Importantly, grants issued under the main program can only be used to build infrastructure along alternative fuel corridors. The bill also requires the DOT to update and re-designate the current alternative fuel corridors in consultation with the Department of Energy.  In contrast, infrastructure built with community grant funding can be built anywhere.  However, community grants are restricted to a maximum amount of $15,000,000.

In order for these programs to become law, the House of Representatives will first have to pass the bill for the President’s signature.  Under this bill, the DOT must update and re-designate the alternative fuel corridors within 180 days of enactment of the Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021.  In addition, within one year of the enactment of the Surface the DOT must establish the grant program. Once the grant program is established, state and local government agencies will issue requests for proposals to the private sector before submitting grant applications.

As we previously discussed, electric vehicle charging infrastructure is a critical component of electrifying the transportation sector to meet our current greenhouse gas emissions reductions.  This proposed grant program, if ultimately passed by the House in its current form, should provide a much needed boost to the continued growth of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Given the scale and size of the grant program, state energy offices, departments of transportation, cities, towns, and other state agencies should start the planning process for EV infrastructure projects in the event the bill becomes law.  Similarly, the private sector should consider opportunities for public private partnerships in the siting and construction of the infrastructure.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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